An Israel El Al airlines plane is seen after its landing following its inaugural flight between Tel Aviv and Nice at Nice international airport, France, April 4, 2019. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard/File Photo
July 25, 2021
By Steven Scheer
JERUSALEM (Reuters) – El Al Israel Airlines on Sunday launched nonstop flights to Marrakesh from Tel Aviv following a resumption of diplomatic ties last year between Morocco and Israel.
Flight 553 took off at 11:35 a.m. (0835 GMT) using a Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft for the six-hour journey.
Israel and Morocco agreed last December to resume diplomatic ties and relaunch direct flights — part of a deal brokered by the United States that also included Washington’s recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara.
“This route will help promote tourism, trade and economic cooperation between the two countries,” said Tourism Minister Yoel Razvozov.
El Al, Israel’s flag carrier which was hit hard last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, said it will operate up to five flights a week to Morocco, switching to smaller Boeing 737 planes.
Morocco was home to one of the largest and most prosperous Jewish communities in North Africa and the Middle East for centuries until Israel’s founding in 1948. An estimated quarter of a million left Morocco for Israel from 1948-1964.
Today only about 3,000 Jews remain in Morocco, while hundreds of thousands of Israelis claim some Moroccan ancestry.
Moroccan officials describe their deal with Israel, including the opening of liaison offices, as a restoration of mid-level ties that Rabat cooled in 2000 in solidarity with Palestinians.
In March, Moroccan Tourism Minister Nadia Fettah Alaoui said she expected 200,000 Israeli visitors in the first year following the resumption of direct flights. That compares with about 13 million yearly total foreign tourists before the pandemic.
Tourism revenue in Morocco fell by 53.8% to 36.3 billion dirhams ($3.8 billion) in 2020.
(Reporting by Steven Scheer; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)